viernes, 3 de julio de 2015

Plata y plomo

"Plata y plomo"
by Jesús Blancornelas
Mexico, 2004

Welcoming Spanish Lit Month 2015 readers to the party with a dirty tumbler full of Mexican narcojournalism may seem a strange way to kick off the festivities out here in Caravanalandia, but it's not like I've ever been accused of having my finger on the pulse of the book blogging world so what the hell, let's rock and roll.  "Plata y plomo" ["Silver and Lead"] is an intense 17-pager written in a terse, violent style not all that far removed from the Bolaño of 2666's "The Part About the Crimes" or the Ellroy of My Dark Places, but why take my word about the high adrenaline prose when you can see it for yourself in the essay's attention-grabbing opening lines?  "Le achicharraron el pene con un puro.  Cicatrices en muslos, pecho y brazos no eran de cigarillo.  Lo encueraron...  Enalambrados tobillos y muñecas.  Apretados tanto hasta sangrar.  El primero y último tiros fueron en la boca" ["They burned his penis with a cigar.  Scars on the thighs, chest and arms weren't from cigarette burns.  They stripped him naked... Wrists and ankles bound in wire.  Tight to the point it provoked bleeding.  The first and last shots were to the mouth"] (47, ellipses added).  I'll spare you all the other forensic details for now, but suffice it to say that they are fitting enough insofar as "Plata y plomo" deals with all the narco killings Blancornelas (1936-2006, above) covered or witnessed since giving up being a ring reporter in the 1950s.  So how does the Proustian madeleine of Mexican narco violence function as a journalistic device in this piece?  As Blancornelas tells it on page 49,

contar cadáveres desde 1985 no es como "nocauts" cuando era cronista deportivo 30 años atrás.  Vi muchos.  Fili Nava.  José Medel.  Toluco López.  Mauro Vázquez.  Ratón Macías.  El Pajarito Moreno.  El Negro Urbina.  Baby Vázquez.  Ultiminio Ramos.  Halimi.  Ike Williams.  Acumulaban "KO's" como cuentas de rosario.  Pero en Baja California los ajusticimiamientos en los últimos quince años, pasan de 300 y a veces llegan a 400 por año.  Enumeración parecida a la de Sinaloa.  Aproximada a la Ciudad Juárez.  Seguramente cercana al terror neolaredense.

[tallying up the dead bodies since 1985 isn't the same thing as tallying up knockouts was when I was a sports reporter 30 years ago.  I saw a lot of the latter.  Fili Nava.  José Medel.  Toluco López.  Mauro Vázquez.  Ratón Macías.  El Pajarito Moreno.  El Negro Urbina.  Baby Vázquez.  Ultiminio Ramos.  Halimi.  Ike Williams.  They accumulated KO's like rosary beads.  But in Baja California, the executions in the last fifteen years surpass 300 and occasionally reach up to 400 per year.  A number similar to that of Sinaloa.  Roughly that of Ciudad Juárez.  Certainly close to Nuevo Laredo's terror.]

Despite the body counts and the graphic descriptions of corpses dissolved in lime or found hanging from bridges and the like, our reporter--himself the target of an assassination attempt in 1997 owing to his writings on cartel violence in Tijuana--insists that "Oler a muerte.  Sentirla de cerca.  Así como que te acaricia la mano" ["Smelling death.  Feeling it up close. As if it were caressing your hand"] is something one never gets used to.  "El estómago se revuelve" ["Your stomach churns"], for one thing.  For another, "Cada vez que veo a un ejecutado o la foto, siento como si tuviera a mi lado la muerte" ["Each time that I see somebody who's been executed or the photo of somebody who's been executed, I feel as if I had Death at my side"] (51).  "Algunos asesinatos son atribudos a ajustes de cuentas entre la delincuencia organizada" ["Some killings are attributed to settling of scores among organized crime"], he explains (56).  "Pero otros son calificados como mensajes ocultos de la mafia hacia el gobierno" ["But others are considered to be secret messages from the mafia to the government"] to warn the official power structure not to interfere with the unofficial one.  Whatever, Blancornelas writes as if he means it and his reflections on the worldwide narco trade's "remedo de los tiempos alcaponescos y hollywoodianos" ["imitation of Hollywoodian and Al Caponesque times"] (61) as it relates to wholesale murder in the streets eventually doubles back to one of his first lessons learned as a Mexican crime reporter: no investigation will take place.  "Recuerda bien, reporterito" ["Remember it well, little reporter"], a public prosecutor warns him, "que en boca cerrada no entran moscas" ["flies can't enter a mouth whose lips are sealed"].  Savage but top shelf nonfiction.

Blancornelas, Jesús.  "Plata y plomo."  In Viento rojo.  Diez historias del narco en México (Mexico City: Random House Mondadori, 2004, 45-63).

domingo, 21 de junio de 2015

Spanish Lit Month 2015

Whilst Stu of Winstonsdad's Blog and I were kind of criminally late getting around to deciding on it this year, "it's all good" because we've decided to throw another Spanish Lit Month shindig next month in honor of the kindred spirits who as we speak are probably practically frothing at the mouth at the idea of stealing books off my Bolaño & Borges shelf!  Naturally, absolutely everybody is invited to "participate" in SLM 2015 whether you actually covet my beloved books or not. All you have to do to attend the party is to read and write about one or more pieces of Spanish language literature or Catalan language literature (read in the original or in translation) in the month of July and then let Stu or me know about it so we can collect the links for others to check out.  Not sure what you'd like to read?  No problem!  Consider joining us for a group read of Adolfo Bioy Casares' La invención de Morel [The Invention of Morel] near the end of the month.  More details forthcoming--but until then, here are the books people read for Spanish Lit Month 2014 as the event continued on into stoppage time in August:

lunes, 25 de mayo de 2015


Contempt [Il disprezzo] (NYRB Classics, 1999)
by Alberto Moravia [translated from the Italian by Angus Davidson]
Italy, 1954

For a no nonsense, stripped down character study about an imploding marriage with virtually no show offy writing other than the occasional extravagant simile and, OK, some masterful psychoanalytic meta engagements with the Odysseus/Ulysses of Homer, Dante, Joyce and Freud, one of the things I most liked about immersing myself in the sea of Contempt's flat prose and suffocating interiority was watching the author heedlessly row himself out as far from shore as possible and then seeing if he could return without crashing onto the rocks of novelistic banality.  Heroic?  Not exactly.  However, it's probably a measure of Moravia's success in the realm of the "boudoir drama" (142) that even Madame fucking Bovary has a more uplifting ending as concerns the "conjugal repugnance" (141) theme!  Whatever, while I suspect that this quick reading but somewhat humorless novel is all too successful a neorealist-like downer for me to ever consider rereading without Technicolor happy pills in hand, two things that make me hedge my bets on that front are Moravia's ironic mean streak in selecting a writer as the poster boy for a self-absorbed intellectual emotionally impotent in the face of his true feelings for another human being (Riccardo Molteni on his wife Emilia: "And so, between us, there was a silence that was only broken from time to time by some quite unimportant remark: 'Will you have some wine?  Will you have some bread?  Some more meat?'...It was, then, a silence that was intolerable because perfectly negative, a silence caused by the suppression of all the things I wanted to say and felt incapable of saying" [116-117, ellipses added]) and a couple of profoundly moving hallucination scenes near the end which touch on the rational and the irrational at the heart of loving somebody while conjuring up the fabled wine dark sea of Homer in primal opposition to modern man's more prosaic and less poetic realities.  Powerful and perceptive but maybe not the perfect book to read if you're currently sleeping alone or have ever lost the girl (or guy) of your dreams to those capricious goddesses known as "Fate."

Alberto Moravia (1907-1990)

martes, 5 de mayo de 2015

Indios, ejército y frontera

Indios, ejército y frontera (Siglo XXI Editores, 1982)
por David Viñas
México, 1982

A veces aburrido y a veces divertido, Indios, ejército y frontera aún así se trata de un ensayo histórico valioso sobre los orígenes y los ejes del poder en la Argentina visto desde el punto de vista de "la cuestión india".  Quizá "aburrido" y "divertido" no sean las palabras adecuadas para evaluar la obra provocadora de Viñas porque el autor, un argentino que tuvo que escribir su libro en el exilio a causa de la dictadura militar de los setenta y ochenta también responsable de "desaparecer" a dos hijos suyos, aumenta las apuestas políticas y polémicas al principio de su obra por preguntar si "el discurso de silencio" en cuanto a los indígenas en la historia argentina no se debe al hecho de que los indios "fueron los desaparecidos de 1879" (12).  En todo caso, no es que falten anécdotas o perspectivas interesantes dentro del libro: citando a un tal Amadeo Jacques, por ejemplo, Viñas escribe de un cacique del Chaco que "había comido corazón de tigre y corazón de víbora para hacerse invulnerable a las balas" de una de las numerosas "expediciones blancas" a la región (120); en otra parte, el historiador ofrece una crítica tajante del cambio de énfasis hacia los indios en menos de una generación desde la publicación de Facundo de Sarmiento hasta la llamada Conquista del Desierto fomentada por el Ministro de Guerra Julio Argentino Roca: "Lo de civilización y barbarie aparece initialmente unido por una 'y' copulativa, hacia el momento de Roca el sentido se desplaza hacia una 'o' disyuntiva.  La síntesis se hace dilema".  ¿Lo importante de esto según Viñas?  "La integración que corre por cuenta del 'civilizador' se desplaza hacia el 'bárbaro' que debe convertirse o desaparecer; adscribirse a los valores del conquistador, en identificatoria sumisión, o perecer" (73).  Una lectura fuerte e inquietante en cuanto a su análisis del "indofobia" (27) y del "asesinato racial en la Argentina" (44) del siglo XIX, y además, una obra igualmente fuerte e inquietante en cuanto a su visión de la Argentina del siglo XX: "Si se analiza la historia argentina desde una amplia perspectiva, resulta evidente que sus mayores dirigentes siempre fueron militares o latifundistas.  Lo excepcional ha sido lo contrario...  Y por cierto que esa secuencia podría prolongarse hacia la actualidad enhebrando tanto a Yrigoyen como a Perón (para asumir la vertiente populista) o a Uriburu, Aramburu, Onganía o Videla si aludimos a la franja autoritaria" (197).  Acertado.

David Viñas (1927-2011)

jueves, 30 de abril de 2015

I Have Nothing but Contempt for You

I'll say it one more time--"out loud" as it were: I HAVE NOTHING BUT CONTEMPT FOR YOU, YOU FUCKING BLOGGERS!!!  No new reviews.  No histrionic wringing of hands about the lackluster translation rates of foreign language lit making it into English.  Not even one of those alliterative memes that some of y'all super earnest types are so dang fond of.  Instead, all I have--all and nothing but, in fact--is contempt (a/k/a Contempt) in the form of a group read of the 1954 Alberto Moravia novel  [original title: Il disprezzo] being held over Memorial Day weekend, May 23rd thru May 25th, in conjunction with the lovely Frances of the legendary Nonsuch Book and the growing number of other non-contemptible types listed below.  Ignore that horrible NYRB Classics cover if you can (presumably generic clip art lifted from some high school yearbook editor's forgotten bottom desk drawer) and concentrate instead on the potential antisocial pleasures to be had in reading a slim 250-page novel of which no less an unassailable authority than the blurb-writer for the back cover of the NYRB edition has enthusiastically opined: "Molteni is one of the great appalling characters of twentieth century fiction."  So are you an innie or an outie?

Everybody Else

lunes, 23 de marzo de 2015

Después del invierno

Después del invierno (Anagrama, 2014)
por Guadalupe Nettel
México, 2014

Claudio es un cubano egocéntrico que vive en Nueva York.  Cecilia es una mexicana tímida que vive en París.  Cuando su breve aventura amorosa estalla en llamas, los ex novios siguen caminos separados para restablecerse y para prepararse para las próximas decepciones en la vida.  A pesar del aparente convencionalismo del argumento, me gustó Después del invierno.  En vez de ser una novela dedicada a personajes cerrados y punto, la obra trata de la carga de la aflicción con perspicacia más que de costumbre y también versa sobre lo que significa ser "un ser fronterizo" (Loc 944 en la edición Kindle) al encontrarse vivir en el extranjero.  Como es de suponer en una obra en que Cecilia está escribiendo una tesina sobre "escritores latinoamericanos enterrados en París" (Loc 2239), en que un vecino suyo dice que los libros "encierran los pensamientos y las voces de otras personas que viven o han vivido en este mundo.  Todos estos autores tienen en común el hecho de estar enterrados aquí, frente a nosotros" antes de prestar Lo infraordinario, la "publicación póstuma" de Georges Perec (Loc 1003), y en que un par de personajes sufren de la depresión y/o contemplan el suicidio en medio de hablar de su afición a César Vallejo y Nick Drake, Nettel alude al hecho de que París "es un inmenso cementerio" (Loc 1845) para llamar la atención a otra frontera significativa: la tierra de nadie entre los vivos y los muertos.  Si, de acuerdo con el conocido ensayo autobiográfico de Roberto Bolaño, podamos todavía afirmar que Literatura + enfermedad = enfermedad, eso no le quita valor del memento mori angustiado que es el libro estimable de Nettel.  Conmovedor.

Guadalupe Nettel

domingo, 15 de marzo de 2015

Una excursión a los indios ranqueles: Captivity Narratives I

Una excursión a los indios ranqueles (EDICOL, 2006)
by Lucio V. Mansilla
Argentina, 1870

Towards the very end of Una excursión a los indios ranqueles--a book first published as a series of letters in the Buenos Aires newspaper La Tribuna and, as previously mentioned, now translated into English by Eva Gillies as A Visit to the Ranquel Indians [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997]--Colonel Lucio V. Mansilla shares two captivity narratives that probably weighed on the minds of many of his readers back home seeing as how they had to do with the abduction of white women by Indian raiding parties along the Cordoban frontier.  Although I'm not going to take the time to comment on the second captive's story right now, in the first of the two stories Mansilla describes his meeting with a captive by the name of Doña Fermina Zárate, seized at about the age of 20 and now one of the longtime wives of a Ranquel cacique or chieftain known as Ramón.  Chief Ramón, one of the Ranqueles whom Mansilla most admires, has just told his visitor that "la señora es muy buena, me ha acompañado muchos años, yo le estoy muy agradecido, por eso le he dicho ya que puede salir cuando quiera volverse a su tierra, donde está su familia" ["the señora is very good, she has kept me company many years, I am very grateful to her; so I've told her she may go if she wishes and return to her own country where her family lives"] (492 in the Spanish, 360 in Gillies' English translation).  However, to Mansilla's surprise, the captive greets the news of her liberation not with tears of joy but with torrents of tears.  To give you a close-up of Mansilla's personality as a writer, his struggles to overcome his racism, and a dramatic indication of his work's value as a primary source,  here's the rest of the vignette-like scene in Mansilla's own words beginning with the moment when the colonel and the captive are left alone by the Ranquel husband Ramón (493 in the Spanish, 360-361 in the English):

-¿Y por qué no se viene usted conmigo, señora? -la dije.
-¡Ah!, señor -me contestó con amargura-, ¿y qué voy a hacer yo entre los cristianos?
-Para reunirse con su familia.  Ya la conozco, está en la Carlota, todos se acuerdan de usted con gran cariño y la lloran mucho.
-¿Y mis hijos, señor?
-Sus hijos...
-Ramón me deja salir a mí porque realmente no es mal hombre; a mí al menos me ha tratado bien, después que fui madre.  Pero mis hijos, mis hijos no quiere que los lleve.
No me resolví a decirle: Déjelos usted, son el fruto de la violencia.
¡Eran sus hijos!
Ella prosiguió:
-Además, señor, ¿qué vida sería la mía entre los cristianos después de tantos años que falto de mi pueblo?  Yo era joven y buena moza cuando me cautivaron.  Y ahora ya ve, estoy vieja.  Parezco cristiana, porque Ramón me permite vestirme como ellas, pero vivo como india; y francamente, me parece que soy más india que cristiana, aunque creo en Dios, como que todos los días le encomiendo mis hijos y mi familia.
-¿A pesar de estar usted cautiva cree en Dios?
-¿Y Él qué culpa tiene de que me agarraran los indios?  La culpa la tendrán los cristianos que no saben cuidar sus mujeres ni sus hijos.
No contesté; tan alta filosofía en boca de aquella mujer, la concubina jubilada de aquél bárbaro, me humilló....

["So why don't you come away with me, señora?"
"Ah, Sir!" replied she with bitterness, "and what am I to do among the Christians?"
"Come and join your family!  I know them, they're at La Carlota, they all remember you with the greatest affection and mourn for you."
"And what about my children, Sir?"
"Your children?"
"Ramón's letting me go myself--because really he's not a bad man; me at least he's always treated well, after I became a mother.  But my children--he doesn't want me to take away my children."
I could not make up my mind to say to her, "Leave them behind, they are the offspring of violence."  They were her children!
She went on, "Besides, Sir--what sort of a life would I have among Christians, after being away from my hometown for so many years?  I was young and pretty when they took me captive.  And now, as you can see, I've grown old.  I look like a Christian, because Ramón allows me to dress as they do; but I live like an Indian woman and, honestly, I think I'm more more Indian than Christian--though I do believe in God and indeed commend my children and family to Him every day."
"Despite being a captive, you believe in God?"
"And what fault of His is it that the Indians grabbed me?  The fault lies with the Christians, who don't know how to look after their women or their children."
I made no answer: such high philosophy from the lips of that woman--the pensioned-off concubine of that barbarian--humbled me....]

Mansilla's obvious struggle to make sense of the complexity of the situation--"I could not make up my mind to say to her, 'Leave them behind, they are the offspring of violence.'  They were her children!"--and Doña Fermina's description of the Christians as "they" rather than "we" are the sort of things that make Mansilla an excellent and "authentic" tour guide.  And even though Mansilla doesn't hesitate to call his Indian host "that barbarian," he often tries to understand the barbarians and their "more Indian than Christian" captives from their points of view.  Is that enough to justify his frequent racism?  You be the judge.  Next up: a captivity narrative from Mansilla about a Ranquel Indian abducted by whites.  Below: two 19th century paintings dedicated to the trauma or propaganda value of Indian raids: Argentinean Ángel della Valle's La vuelta del malón [The Return of the Raiders], a detail of which figures on the cover of my EDICOL edition of Una excursión a los indios ranqueles, and German Johann Moritz Rugendas' El malón [The Indian Raid], a canvas concerning a Mapuche raid in Chile.  People who have read César Aira's 2000 novel Un episodio en la vida del pintor viajero [An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter], a work having to do with the "landscape painter" Rugendas' multiple and exotic misfortunes in Argentina including being struck by lightning and witnessing Indian raids, can now start debating whether the surrealistic scene in which an Indian raider grabs an uncommonly large salmon as if to steal it for a mate is actually an inside joke inspired by the lady captive's salmon steak-colored dress in the center of El malón below.  Mansilla-della Valle-Rugendas-Aira.  That sure seems to be the case to me!

 La vuelta del malón
(Ángel della Valle, 1892)

El malón
(Johann Moritz Rugendas, 1836)